When it comes to anything in life, the old expression goes “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” That phrase is perhaps used in no situation more than sports, where athletes and teams are trying their best to gain a competitive advantage to help them win games, matches, races and whatever else may lie in front of them.
Cheating is the worst thing that an athlete can be accused of. Sometimes it leads to fines, suspensions, or even lifetime bans. Cheating is as old as sports, and athletes are still trying to get that edge to get them over the top, as it leads to more money and fame. Cheating has been in the headlines a lot lately with Tom Brady being suspended for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season after ‘Deflategate’, but that’s nothing compared to some of the worst cases of cheating. In fact the great Joe Montana himself said that his 49ers teams of the 1980s looked for ways to get a competitive edge as well. For example the Niners' O-line used silicone spray on their jerseys and Jerry Rice admitted to using stickum even after the NFL had banned it.
You could probably catch someone cheating in just about every sporting event in some capacity, but only a few have been caught doing it. There are some egregious cases of sports cheating, and these are perhaps the 15 most memorable. Some of them are subtle and took a lot of time to uncover, while others were so blatant that they ended up in blooper reels. Here are 15 times that teams and athletes were caught cheating.
15 Mike Tomlin
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a lot of success with coaches over the past few decades, including the hiring of Mike Tomlin that has netted them a Super Bowl victory. In a regular season game against the Ravens late in the 2013 regular season though, Tomlin stepped out of line. Actually, Tomlin stepped onto the field to disrupt kick returner Jacoby Jones who looked like he was headed for the end zone. Tomlin claimed it was a mistake at first, but was fined $100,000 and the team almost had to give up a draft pick. The comical nature of this one puts it behind the other 14 on this countdown.
14 Lance Armstrong
Lance Armstrong was the ultimate feel good story and made the Tour de France relevant to the casual sports fan. Armstrong was a cancer survivor who ended up winning seven titles at the Tour de France, but some of the racers that competed against him and on the same team had their doubts about how legitimate his wins were. It turns out that Armstrong had been taking performance enhancing drugs, and he was denying it all the way until 2013 when he appeared on Oprah and confessed in a tell-all that he had cheated the system.
13 Marion Jones
Marion Jones was the star of the show at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney when she won three gold medals for the USA in track and field. Jones also spent some time in the WNBA, playing for the Tulsa Shock. It was her track career that was most noteworthy, though, and it turns out that she was taking steroids to help herself win the competitions. Jones was stripped of her gold medals when she made the admission after names from the BALCO case started to drop, and hers was a part of it. Jones also had to spend some time in jail as a result, spending six months in prison.
12 Steroid Era
Perhaps the most exciting era in baseball history was also the most tainted. In what is known as the Steroid Era, some of the league’s best players were busted for using steroids, while others admitted later that they were juicing during their playing days. Ken Caminiti won the 1996 MVP award for the National League, and later admitted that he did it with performance enhancing drugs Other players like Alex Rodriguez were caught in the act back in 2003, and players such as Mark McGwire admitted after their careers that they had been taking steroids. The first domino to drop was when Jose Canseco released a book in 2005 that detailed his steroid use and the use of other players around the league. It was estimated that 40 percent of players were using steroids.
11 Ben Johnson
Canada isn’t really known for producing Olympic sprinters, but they found one in the form of Ben Johnson. Johnson won two bronze medals and a gold at the Olympics, setting the record for the fastest 100 meter dash in the 1988 Summer Olympics. After the Olympics were over, it was found that Ben Johnson’s blood and urine samples contained illegal substances, which got his records removed from the books. Johnson admitted that he had been taking steroids, but he wasn’t the only one. Out of the eight people that qualified for the 100 meter dash, six of them tested positive, as well.
10 1919 Chicago White Sox
The World Series is the ultimate goal for any team in Major League Baseball, but apparently money was a bit more important for the 1919 Chicago White Sox. In their series against the Cincinnati Reds, eight players on the White Sox were accused of throwing the game as gamblers laid heavy money on the underdog Reds to win. Although courts didn’t find the White Sox players guilty, they all received a lifetime ban from baseball, with the most notable of the bunch being “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.
9 Rosie Ruiz
When people hear the story of Rosie Ruiz, many think that she wasn’t even a runner at all, but she was actually pretty good. Just not good enough to win the coveted Boston Marathon or the New York Marathon. Ruiz came from Cuba and qualified with a time of 2:56:29. When Ruiz won the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:31:56, a lot of people were curious as to how she improved her time by that much so quickly, and it was the third fastest for a woman in history. After some people noticed that she wasn’t sweaty like the other runners and her legs didn’t have anywhere near the definition of other runners, so an investigation was launched. It turned out that Ruiz didn’t run the entire Boston Marathon, and that she did the same thing in New York.
8 Tonya Harding
Tonya Harding was locked in an intense battle with Nancy Kerrigan in the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which were the de facto Olympic trials when the Winter Olympics shifted two years earlier than normal. Harding’s husband at the time, Jeff Gillooly, and his friend Shawn Eckhardt hired a man named Shane Stant to attack Kerrigan while she was practicing in Detroit, which caused her to miss the event. Harding won, but Kerrigan was the other skater selected to go to the Olympics in Lillehammer, where Harding took eighth place and Kerrigan won the silver.
7 Pete Rose
Pete Rose was a long time member of the Cincinnati Reds and the leading hitter in baseball history by the time he retired. Rose went over to a managerial position with the Reds after his playing career, and it was found that Rose was betting on the Reds’ games while he was their manager. Rose denied this was happening for a long time and received a lifetime ban from baseball before he revealed that he was actually betting on just about every game that he managed for Cincinnati. There have been multiple attempts at reinstatement for Rose, but they have all been denied.
The City College of New York was fresh off of their NIT Championship and NCAA Tournament title in the 1950 season when the Beavers were caught bending the rules. Players on the team would meet with players of the opposing team before games in an organized crime fix that would see point shaving reach high levels, moving thousands and thousands of dollars in the process. After the team beat Temple by 24 points in 1951, the players were arrested when they returned back to campus. Many teams were punished and had to shut down their basketball programs while Kentucky was able to bounce back after a season of not having a team.
5 New England Patriots - Spygate
While all of the talk about the Patriots being caught cheating is focused on ‘Deflategate’ these days, the first true time they were caught cheating was back in 2007 when the team was videotaping the coaches' signals from the New York Jets. Roger Goodell ruled that the Patriots blatantly cheated by taping the Jets from their sidelines, which is a violation that resulted in the largest fine ever for a coach in the NFL, as Bill Belichick had to pay the league $500,000. The team was also fined $250,000 and had to give up their first round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
4 Renault F1 Team
In auto racing, cheating is a huge part of the sport as teams try to get advantages with their cars, hoping that they will slip by the governing body upon the post race inspection. Sometimes, the cheating is a little more obvious, as was the case in 2008 with the Renault Formula One team. The team ordered driver Nelson Piquet Jr. to intentionally crash during the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix to cause a restart that would allow Fernando Alonso to get closer to the leader. Alonso ended up winning, but the team was suspended from competition for two years and Piquet ended up with NASCAR.
3 Joe Niekro
Joe Niekro played for more than 20 years in the Major Leagues as a pitcher with seven different teams. Niekro won 221 games and went to one All Star Game, but people will always remember him for the blooper reel worthy cheating that he tried in 1985 as a member of the Minnesota Twins. It was found that Niekro had an emery board in his pocket that he was using to doctor the ball. When the umpire, Tim Tschida, told Niekro to empty his pockets, the board and a piece of sandpaper went flying in comical fashion.
2 Nigerian Soccer
Nigerian Soccer doesn’t quite get the headlines that European soccer does, but it sure was crazy to see how many people became interested in it after the 2011-12 season. Two teams were trying to get a promotion from the semi-pro ranks into the lowest professional league in the country, and needed some goal differential help to do it. The two teams plotted with two others in the league to create lopsided matches that would get them in, resulting in two games that had scores of 79-0 and 67-0. As a result, all four teams that took part in these games were banned for a decade.
While it might not be giving a team a schematic advantage in a game, the New Orleans Saints violated NFL rules by offering bonuses for injuring opposing players during games. As a result of the bounties that were handed out by the coaches and players that pooled money, many notable players were injured from 2009 to 2012. Some of the big names include Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton. The Saints wound up winning the Super Bowl during the first year of Bountygate, and head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season.